Control & Curiosity
We all struggle for a sense of control in our lives.
Think about it: Feeling out of control is scary.
Our attempts at controlling the chaos of life isn’t a bad or good practice. And / But those attempts at control have consequences.
Practicing control behind the wheel of the car generally results in a safe journey for you and those on your path. Practicing control of your mind generally leads to more equanimity and inner peace, and can lead to more stress as you become aware of unresolved issues.
Practicing control over someone else in a relationship generally leads to resentment, hurt, and anger.
Practicing control over your body can lead to greater health or self-destruction.
You get the idea.
Being aware of that need for control, being aware of how you attempt to control, being aware of the consequences of those practices - all of that awareness can lead to healthier outcomes.
However, when left unquestioned, this need for control easily slips into rigidity and righteousness.
I see this slope slide down again and again in daily life.
There’s trying to have control over external situations / other people:
In traffic, you know that YOU are a safe driver. You are in control of your car. And you want to be in control of everyone else’s car, too. As you maneuver down the highway at 10 mph over the speed limit, safely keeping with traffic, you notice someone going slower in the right lane. How unsafe - don’t they know they are going to get run over? Suddenly, someone speeds past you in the left lane. Dangerous, crazy, stupid driver!
In a transaction at the coffee shop: You order, they smile, your drink comes out just as you expected it. Any deviation from that process makes you feel slightly out of control. Wait, they are out of soy milk? How unprepared. That barista is being quite snippy with me - unacceptable. And does that mom not KNOW how to keep her kid quiet?!
In your long-term relationship, you know by now how the other person is going to respond. Armed with this knowledge and wanting things to be different, you charge into a conversation full of assumptions and many words, but little space for listening. After all, you know where this is going. Best to just take control and redirect it all now.
And there’s also attempts at controlling your own self:
In a restaurant, you notice the other diners over the top of the menu you hold in your hands. Your unconscious beliefs that diet = body size = happiness = control bubble to the surface. That overweight man scarfing down his greasy burger - sad. That thin woman over there, delicately picking at her salad? You’re envious. You glance again at your menu and reluctantly order the bland but healthy option (this restaurant isn’t the best at those options). You’re going to keep control over your own body, damn it.
Do any of these sound familiar?
Engaging with a desire for creative control in your daily life isn’t wrong. Let’s remember that. No rights, no wrongs, …. right?
The danger arises when you let that desire for control take the lead. The danger is when your addiction to a sense of control is so strong that it makes you righteous.
The danger is when your need for control makes you unaccepting of the inevitable changes of and variance in life.
In order to avoid those consequences, …
What happens if - in just maybe one, tiny little moment of life - you let curiosity take the lead?
What if (even if it is difficult), you become more curious about the entire situation? What if you became more curious about how YOU thinking or behaving differently might make the situation different?
Let’s revisit those situations above to play our little “what if” game.
You are a safe driver. But that frustration of the speed over the other drivers stresses you out every time. This happens day after day on your commute, and really ripples out into the rest of your day (and evening, as you dread waking to do it all again). What if you viewed those other drivers with a sense of curiosity? Why is that driver going faster, and that one slower? What might be happening in their life right now to make them choose that speed? Why does their speed stress you so much? Are you startled by the driver on the left, afraid, feeling put behind in your path towards your own destination because of the slower driver? How else could you process those feelings? More curiosity.
At the coffee shop. It’s probably a helpful thing that most people have some sense of how the process works (line, counter, order, wait, receive, leave) - otherwise, trying to order a drink could be a nightmare. But what if you saw that coffee shop as a playground? You know you don’t push someone off the swing or throw sand, but otherwise, it’s a place to explore. It’s different every single time you visit. What if you thought about how your drink was being made while you wait instead of fretting over the wait time? What if you pretended the young woman taking your order was your stressed out daughter just trying to make it through this shift - how would you treat her differently than seeing her as a rude, non-caring barista? What if you ordered a slightly different drink and mindfully explored how it tastes, instead of gulping through your usual order? More curiosity.
With your relationship. Oh, you know this one. You know that you don’t really know what the other person is thinking or what s/he is going to do. But it is SO easy in each moment to assume! Breathe, and let curiosity take the lead. What if you asked what your conversational partner meant this time instead of charging forward? What if you went into every conversation as if you knew almost nothing about the other person - what questions might you ask? What if you practiced keeping your mind silent while they were talking, and left it open to observation and …. you guessed it, more curiosity?
And at the restaurant? There are so many layers here. (Regular Being Breath readers know that body image issues are a hot-button topic here.) What if you saw the other diners and yourself as beautiful regardless of what was on their plates? What if you didn’t make assumptions about their health or who they were dependent upon what they’d ordered? What if you didn’t feel the need to control your body; rather, to engage with it? What if health mattered but size didn’t? Etc, etc, etc. More curiosity. (Less judgment.)
Control and curiosity are always in a dance, and there is no right form to this dance. Some situations might call for more control; some, for more curiosity. But.
There have been far too many conflicts and suffering created because of unquestioned addictions to control.
Perhaps it is time for more curiosity. Remember - you can’t change how anyone else thinks, but the playground of your own mind is always open.
What IF, for just one situation today, you let curiosity take the lead?
Here’s to the dance….